A ‘Way of Seeing’

PETER JACKSON concluded in 1989, that within the landscape tradition the emphasis is now on the idea of landscape as a social construction or a ‘way of seeing’, rather than being reducible to a series of physical traits.[i] He cited Cosgrove’s definition of landscape and argued that there are potentially as many ways of seeing as there are eyes to see: “A reconstituted cultural geography must therefore be prepared to examine the multiplicity of landscapes that these plural conceptions of culture inform”.[ii]

As a case in point, Barry Lopez describes the mobile and changing nature of landscapes in a nation’s history as follows:

“[T]he narrative direction that a nation’s history takes is amenable to revision; and the landscapes in which history unfolds are both real, that is, profound in their physical effects on mankind, and not real, but mere projections, artifacts of human perception.”[iii]

TO ILLUSTRATE from a New Zealand perspective – the traditional Maori view of the landscape as being ‘alive’, and as a defining matrix of personal identity, was quite different from the view of the first European New Zealanders. Some prominent first Europeans to New Zealand were notable for viewing the landscape as something objective – ‘out there’ to be tamed, civilised, cultivated in order to fit a European ideal and so exploited, not only for a personal living, but for amassing wealth and profit. Several generations later, when Europeans became Pakeha New Zealanders, some regret was felt at the early colonialist exploitation of the indigenous landscape and the destruction of forests. The natural New Zealand landscape was cherished and sought out for spiritual sustenance. In particular, this ‘way of seeing’ was expressed by the writers and poets of the 1930s and 1940s; mountaineers, trampers and skiers have for the most part continued their long tradition of revering the natural landscape.

Today there are conflicting perceptions of the New Zealand landscape. Commercial interests with multi-national backing and government departments including the Department of Conservation and both Pakeha and Maori, have financial interests in the commodification of natural landscape and nature experience – hence the tourist dollar, mining, native timber-felling, real estate development, power generation, thirsty dairying in inappropriate areas of dry grassland, leading to depletion and pollution of rivers and waterways, and financially motivated immigration consultancies. The natural landscape, including National Parks, is not infrequently seen in primarily objective terms, as a resourse to be utilised to maximise corporate and government profit.

In opposition to all this are many New Zealanders – Maori, Pakeha and new immigrants – who have lived deeply in and felt intensely for this land, sometimes for generations and sometimes not. They feel a spiritual affinity and identity with the indigenous, pristine landscape and wish to conserve and restore what remains. In particular these New Zealanders wish to keep our National Parks unspoiled: unexploited commercially, aesthetically and environmentally unpolluted, and in the spirit in which they were originally gifted and conceived by our Maori and British colonial ancestors – as loved landscapes with old and humble huts of unique value in and of themselves; spiritual reservoirs (not to be paid for but our birthright), to be approached with reverence and care by all New Zealanders and visitors regardless of race. These New Zealanders wish to safe-guard and care-take the intrinsic values of mountains, flowing rivers, the pristine waterways, lakes, wetlands and the quality of the soils, flora and fauna in their natural landscapes. In this landscape they perceive their soul as New Zealanders.[iv]

[i] Jackson(1989) Maps of Meaning, 181.

[ii] Ibid, 177.

[iii] Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams – Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (London: The Harvill Press, 1998), 256.

[iv] See Te Maire Tau, ‘Ngai Tahu and the Canterbury Landscape – A Broad Context’ in: Cookson, John & Dunstall, Graeme (eds.), Southern Capital Christchurch – Towards a City Biography 1850- 2000 (Canterbury University Press, 2000) 41-60; Geoff Park, Nga Uruora The Groves of Life – Ecology & History in a New Zealand Landscape (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1995); Trudie McNaughton, Countless Signs – The New Zealand Landscape in Literature (New Zealand: Reed Methuen, 1986); Harry C. Evison, Te Wai Pounamu The Greenstone Island – A History of the Southern Maori during the European Colonization of New Zealand (Christchurch: Aoraki Press, 1993); Hong-Key Yoon, Maori Mind, Maori Land (Berne & New York: Eratosthene Interdisciplinary Series, Peter Lang, 1986); Philip Temple (ed.), Lake, Mountain, Tree: An Anthology of Writings on New Zealand Nature and Landscape (New Zealand: Godwit, 1998).

“the Soul of the Perceiver”

THE QUANTUM WORLD of nonmaterial symmetries and archetypes also requires new ways of envisioning the world, description and language.

The importance of the imagination and an inner non-physical reality behind our physical external world is understood by quantum physicists; in particular Wolfgang Pauli, F. David Peat and David Bohm.

Pauli argued that the psychologist and the physicist are engaged in a complimentary quest. Hence Wolfgang Pauli advocated that the:

“Investigation of scientific knowledge directed outwards should be supplemented by an investigation of this knowledge directed inwards. The former process is directed to adjusting our knowledge to external objects; the latter should bring to light the archetypal images used in the creation of our scientific theories. Only by combining both these directions of research may complete understanding be obtained.”[i]

Psychiatrist Anthony Stevens states:

“The relationship between the physical world we perceive and our cognitive formulations concerning that world is predicated upon the fact that the soul of the perceiver and that which is recognised by perception are subject to an order thought to be objective.”[ii]

Stevens notes that, for Pauli,

“…the archetypes which order our perceptions and ideas are themselves the product of an objective order which transcends both the human mind and the external world.”[iii]

[i] Wolfgang Pauli, ‘The influence of archetypal ideas on the scientific theories of Kepler’ in: C.G. Jung and W. Pauli, The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1955), 208.

[ii] See Anthony Stevens, Archetype – A Natural History of the Self (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982), 74.

[iii] Anthony Stevens, ‘Thoughts on the Psychobiology of Religion and the Neurobiology of Archetypal Experience’, Zygon, v.21, no.1 (1986), 19.

The Celestial Earth – “subtle bodies of Light”

CORBIN DESCRIBES SOPHIA, the divine presence of wisdom for our world in an intermediate imaginal world – the Celestial Earth, as follows:

“Between the intellectual and the sensible… [is] a ‘spiritual corporeity’ which represents the Dwelling, the Divine Presence, for our world. This Dwelling is Wisdom itself, Sophia.”[i]

Sophia is “the imaginal place of the Divine Presence in our world”. Sophia as the Celestial Earth is typified in the Shi’ite gnosis by Fatima, “the Sophia of the Shi’ite theosophy and cosmology”.[ii] Thus Sophianity is for the human being to accede here and now to the Celestial Earth, to the world of Hurqalya, world of ‘celestial corporeity’, which is that of the subtle bodies of Light.[iii]

[i] Henry Corbin, ‘Towards a Chart of the Imaginal’, Temenos 1 (1981), 30.

[ii] Ibid, 31.

[iii] Ibid, 32-33.

“How do people imagine the landscapes?”

IMAGINATION IN THE Postmodern Ecological Landscape is the key to the relations and interactions between the natural world and human beings. Barry Lopez asks:

“How do people imagine the landscapes they find themselves in? How does the land shape the imaginations of the people who dwell in it? How does desire itself, the desire to comprehend, shape knowledge? These questions seemed to me to go deeper than the topical issues, to underlie any consideration of them.”[i]

These are Sophianic epistemological questions. They predominate in the Postmodern Ecological Landscape and the I-Thou relation with the land and the landscape. Descriptors of this relationship are mystical, emotional, lyrical and reverential. These are also descriptors inherent to Sophianic Wisdom, morality, perception and spirituality. For example, Lynn Ross-Bryant maintains that Lopez is an exemplar of postmodern ecological writers who offer a holistic view of humans, nature and spirit.

The mysterious otherness of nature is allowed to present itself and in the process the sacred is revealed. Thus,

“Lopez joins postmodern thought in general and neopragmatism in particular in discounting the Cartesian project of knowing the world objectively, in itself. Humans have no privileged position from which they can observe the world”.[ii]

[i] Lopez (1988) Arctic Dreams, xxvii.

[ii] Ross-Bryant (1991) ‘Of Nature and Texts’, 40.

Sophia’s Inner Landscapes

SOPHIA IS THE archetype of inner landscapes. Sophia is identified with Anima Mundi/World Soul and Mundus Imaginalis – the inner landscapes of forms and archetypes from which our outer landscapes are a manifestation and a materialisation.

The Sophia archetype, as Anima Mundi/World Soul and the divine feminine, perfect nature, also embodies a holistic view of humans, nature and spirit. The mysterious otherness of nature in which the sacred is revealed is characteristic of Sophianic Wisdom and perception.

Sophianic perception is ta’wil harmonic perception. It is participatory, mystical and consciously archetypal – recognising the ability to perceive on several levels simultaneously. It is the antithesis of Cartesian objectification, the I-It world, materialist reduction and dualism.

Behind and within the Postmodern Ecological Landscape is the Sophia Wisdom Archetype. Postmodern ecological writers indicate that it is the inner landscape of the psyche from which the imagination springs, that creates the outer landscapes of our being in the world.

As will be shown, these are also the arguments of the Sophianic Mazdean and Sufi mystics and their archetypal ‘visionary geography’, as translated and interpreted by Henry Corbin. Inherent to mundus imaginalis/imaginal landscapes and Sophianic harmonic perception (ta’wil) are the inner archetypal landscapes of the soul.

Sophia Geography

Sophia rules the eighth clime, the archetypal world of images, the world in which the forms of our thoughts and desires, of our presentiments and of our behavior and all works accomplished on earth subsist.

– C.G. Jung

[U]ltimately what we call physics and physical is but a reflection of the world of the Soul; there is no pure physics, but always the physics of some definite psychic activity.

The earth is then a vision, and geography a visionary geography… the categories of the sacredness “which possesses the soul” can be recognised in the landscape with which it surrounds itself and in which it shapes its habitat, whether by projecting the vision on an ideal iconography, or by attempting to inscribe and reproduce a model of the vision on the actual earthly ground.

– Henry Corbin

A Hymn to Sophia

IN THIS CHAPTER I explore, however tentatively and inadequately, the Sophianic inner landscape – the Imaginal, the Mundus Imaginalis, Sophianic harmonic perception or Ta’wil, and the Sophianic visionary geography of the soul.[i] In the Postmodern Ecological Landscape and under the Sophia Wisdom Archetype we become more aware of the imagination in creating landscape. The inner landscape becomes as important as the outer landscape. As Lopez observes,

“to inquire into the intricacies of a distant landscape … is to provoke thoughts about one’s own interior landscape, and the familiar landscapes of memory. The land urges us to come around to an understanding of ourselves”.[ii]

Lynn Ross-Bryant argues that

“For Lopez the landscape we imagine is also that other that exists beyond and outside of human language and that shapes human language and experience…” [iii]

Postmodern ecological writers indicate, often implicitly rather than explicitly, that there is a vital interaction between inner landscapes, imagination and outer landscapes.

In many cases it is the outer landscape which stimulates our imagination and creates the realisation of a deeper inner wisdom and inner Being. In other cases, it would seem that it is the inner landscapes of the psyche, from which the imagination springs that creates the outer landscapes of our Being-in-the-world.

 


[i] Note: It is impossible here to do justice to the concepts of the Imaginal, Mundus Imaginalis and Ta’wil as is evidenced by the complexity and life-time’s work on translations and interpretation by Henry Corbin. At most, it is possible here only to give a very superficial indication and generalised view of some of the main themes, without differentiating them and sourcing them in detail to their particular mystical strands and esoteric historical originations.

[ii] Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams – Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (London: The Harville Press, 1998), 247.

[iii] Lynn Ross-Bryant, ‘Of Nature and Texts: Nature and Religion in American Ecological Literature’, Anglican Theological Review, v.73, no.1 (1991), 40.

Sophia’s Return

“…the Sophianic form of Mazdean devotion to the Angel of the Earth ultimately tends to cause the opening up in consciousness of that archetypal Image which depth psychology calls Anima, and which is the secret presence of the Eternal feminine in men.”

– Henri Corbin

“The Goddess is now returning. Denied and suppressed for thousands of years of masculine domination, she comes at a time of dire need… Mother Earth herself has been pressed to the limits of her endurance.”

– Edward C. Whitmont

AS IF IN PRECOGNITION of his life’s work, Henry Corbin wrote this haunting meditation in 1932, at the edge of Lake Siljan in Sweden, when he was 29 years old. Corbin called it Theology by the Lakeside.

“Everything is but revelation; there can only be re-velation. But revelation comes from the Spirit, and there is no knowledge of the Spirit. It will soon be dusk, but for now the clouds are still clear, the pines are not yet darkened, for the lake brightens them into transparency. And everything is green with a green that would be richer than if pulling all the organ stops in recital. It must be heard seated, very close to the Earth, arms crossed, eyes closed, pretending to sleep. For it is not necessary to strut about like a conqueror and want to give a name to things, to everything; it is they who will tell you who they are, if you listen, yielding like a lover; for suddenly for you, in the untroubled peace of this forest of the North, the Earth has come to Thou, visible as an Angel that would perhaps be a woman, and in this apparition, this greatly green and thronging solitude, yes, the Angel too is robed in green, the green of the dusk, of silence and of truth. Then there is in you all the sweetness that is present in the surrender to an embrace that triumphs over you. Earth, Angel, Woman, all of this in a single thing that I adore and that is in this forest. Dusk on the lake, my Annunciation.”[i]

[i] Henry Corbin, ‘Theologie au bord du lac’, in Christian Jambet, ed. Henry Corbin. Paris: Cahier del, Herne no. 39 (1981), 62.